Solidarity Sandy Springs helps neighbors in need

Jennifer Barnes prepares to hand out bread at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry that serves 350-400 households per week in an old Peter Glen store at The Prado. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

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Jennifer Barnes prepares to hand out bread at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry that serves 350-400 households per week in an old Peter Glen store at The Prado. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Jennifer Barnes has given her Sandy Springs neighbors what they’ve been looking for: community and a way to help those in need.

What started with a few people bringing nonperishables to a central location for needy families has grown into a stellar volunteer effort to provide food, clothing, and many opportunities to families in less privileged neighborhoods in Sandy Springs.

Three days a week, an army of volunteers open Solidarity Sandy Springs, a food pantry/neighborhood grocery store with food and hygiene items free to anyone in need. Every week, 350 to 400 shoppers will file through. Many will pull out cash and fill a tip jar or write a heartfelt word of thanks in a collective book of comments.

That’s the tear-jerker, says Erin Darling Olivier, Sandy Springs resident, and a Solidarity co-founder.

“It’s such a special, special place,” Olivier said of the food pantry. “The amount of generosity is amazing.”

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Volunteers (in red) help clients find items at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Volunteers (in red) help clients find items at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Combined ShapeCaption
Volunteers (in red) help clients find items at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

When the pandemic lockdown began in 2020, two friends wanted to put food on the tables of 10 families who were already struggling. Barnes and Sonia Simon had invested in these families for years, sending their kids to summer camps and giving through other volunteer services.

“The reality of it hit when they announced that school was going to be virtual. Sometimes those kids are hungry, even on a good day. I’m like, Oh my God, What are those kids going to do? I had a little panic attack. It was March 14 (2020). I woke up, and I texted Sonia and said, ‘Are you up?’ And she said, ‘I’m up, and I’m worried, and I’m praying.’”

That morning, they decided to ask their friends to gather canned food and donations to help feed the families for two weeks. By that afternoon, everyone realized the extent of the pandemic and the needs in their community.

Solidarity Sandy Springs was born.

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Volunteer Karen Shanahan helps a client at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry . PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Volunteer Karen Shanahan helps a client at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry . PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Combined ShapeCaption
Volunteer Karen Shanahan helps a client at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry . PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Local restaurant Under The Cork Tree had temporarily closed due to the pandemic, and owner Jason Sheetz offered its use to Solidarity. Volunteers turned it into a makeshift grocery store, serving three or four shoppers at a time. The pantry served 60 shoppers during opening day, but 30 people were left outside when the food ran out.

“I can only remember that day as the day of pure ole despair,” Barnes said. The team all had a good cry, then got over it, texted their friends for more goods and donations, and went shopping.

“The next day, we fed 105 shoppers, and we have never run out of food since then,” Barnes said.

Over the past two years, Solidarity has served 37,000 shoppers, each shopper representing five to seven family members. In addition, kids’ special shopping days allow them to pick out something for Mother’s Day or buy their Christmas gifts. And this past holiday season, “Secret Santa’s” filled the wish lists for 1,741 kids, giving away 247 bicycles.

Solidarity has given out COVID-19 vaccinations and eye screenings, and hosted a job fair.

“Our whole thought process is abundance, kindness and gratitude,” Barnes said. “We live in a society that is so abundant and has so many resources, and people really, honestly want to help. They just want someone to tell them how to do it.”

More than 3,000 have volunteered to keep Solidarity operating three days a week. These are primarily neighbors – from high school students looking for community service projects to retirees wanting something to do outside the house. In addition, local businesses send their employees for team-building service projects.

The food and other items are all donated, or purchased with donations.

Olivier collects donated bread and pastries each week from a local grocery store and fills Solidarity shelves. She’s cut back on her service because so many other people want to help, like the Kennesaw State University professor serving in the mornings before heading off to teach classes.

“It’s been fun to watch our community come together. Everyone wanted to help,” Olivier said.

Barnes and her team are always searching for more opportunities to be a safety net and bring dignity to those in need. They would eventually like to put it all in a permanent community center space and open more areas for people to serve.

“This is the best life I’ve ever lived,” said Barnes, a Realtor, wife and a mom of a teenage son. “You pray for what it is you’re supposed to be doing with your life, well, this is it. At least for this phase of life.”


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Volunteer Daniel Siler (right) helps clients select canned food at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Volunteer Daniel Siler (right) helps clients select canned food at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Combined ShapeCaption
Volunteer Daniel Siler (right) helps clients select canned food at the Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

MORE DETAILS

Solidarity Sandy Springs. Shopping hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays 9 a.m.-noon. Donation hours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-noon. Closed Sundays. The Prado, 5600 Roswell Road, Suite F150, Sandy Springs. solidaritysandysprings.org/